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Review: ‘UGLY’ is a post-punk rebirth

Photo courtesy Method

By Arman Saxena     3/21/23 10:18pm

Rating: ★★★★½

Top Track: “Yum”

When I put on Slowthai’s newest project on a cozy Friday morning, I was not expecting to be met with a propulsive, anxious and fervidly aggressive electro-industrial track. Slowthai’s last album “Tyron” was a departure from the UK rapper’s grime and punk roots, alternating between boastful trap anthems and R&B-influenced introspection. With “UGLY,” the Northampton-born rapper has reinvented himself once again. 

“Yum” is a phenomenal opener, introducing the listener to the raw and angry contemplation that Slowthai has displayed in spurts but lets completely loose on this project. Hurried breathing, explicit sex noises and pulsating synths conjoined with Slowthai’s impassioned illustration of his self-hatred and anxiety culminate in a feverish climax — and that’s just the album’s first four minutes. 

While many albums don’t live up to the expectations set by their phenomenal openers, there are no songs following “Yum” that feel ineffective in Slowthai’s exploration of his deepest thoughts and emotions. This is Slowthai at his most experimental. There are many interesting musical choices utilized to great effect: the breakbeat-influenced production on “Never Again,” the shoegaze-y noise of “Falling” and “UGLY” and the psychedelic post-rock on “Tourniquet” are some of the most memorable. 

Similarly to “Yum,” Slowthai is clearly pouring his heart out on the title track. While still introspective, “UGLY” positions Slowthai as a cultural commentator with the lyrics, “When pigment's a depiction of class / When your body has to be a wine glass / You drop your guard, you realize it's hard, it's ugly.” According to Slowthai, the letters UGLY stand for “U Gotta Love Yourself,” and with this song he seems to tell listeners that in the midst of racism, classism and violence, you have to remember to love yourself because you can’t rely on the world for it. 

The album’s penultimate track is another highlight. While “Tourniquet” may initially seem like a quiet reprieve from the anger of the previous track “Wotz Funny,” it is as, if not more, powerful. Produced by ingenues Ethan B. Flynn and Taylor Skye, the song is a devastating and soul-baring alternative rock piece that sees Slowthai at the end of his rope, screaming lyrics like “I’ll play the wound / You play the salt.” After “Yum,” this is Slowthai at his most emotionally naked, the song’s growing freneticism representing the final stage of his self-destruction. The track ends with 30 seconds of instrumental post-rock; in context, it sounds almost funereal.

Unlike his previous two projects, Slowthai fully leans into the post-punk genre with “UGLY.” His musical choices, from the guitar work from Irish post-punk band Fontaines D.C. to the Radiohead-influenced production on “Tourniquet,” make this one of the most quintessentially British albums in recent years.

At only 28 years old, Slowthai has released the best project of his career thus far, and it will be incredibly exciting to see how he continues to reinvent himself. He clearly has a passion for experimentation and subverting expectations with each new project, and his next one is sure to be worth the wait. 

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